With their vivid
long-lasting flowers, vigorous growth and
forgiving nature, it would be difficult to name
an orchid more ideal for the novice grower than a
reed-stem Epidendrum. They have
sometimes been called the poor man's orchid for
several reasons: they were affordable and widely
available during times when most orchids could be
cultivated only by the wealthy; they are easily
propagated, yielding many plants from one stem;
and they are tolerant of a wide range of growing
conditions, including outdoors. They also
have the advantage of being relatively free of
insects and flowering reliably throughout the
year. If you are new to orchid growing,
with reed-stem epidendrums you can enjoy a riot
of colorful orchid blooms all year with minimal
of the diverse genus Epidendrum are
native to the tropical Americas, from South
Carolina (Epidendrum conopseum) south
through Mexico and Central America to Argentina.
These orchids are extremely variable in
habitat requirements. They can be found at
elevations from sea level to 12,000 feet, growing
in climes ranging from seasonally dry tropical
forests to grassy slopes in full sun to hot
steamy jungles to cool, damp cloud forests.
Most are epiphytic, many are lithophytic
and still others are terrestrial. They are
now worldwide in distribution introduced and
naturalized in most subtropical and tropical
countries, including well-watered yards in
Southern California and in South Florida.
Often people have been growing these
orchids in their yards for years without
number of species in the genus varies varies
depending on which taxonomist you ask. At
one time, the genus Epidendrum included
those plants now classified as the genus Encyclia
(around 250 species), Osterdella (40 to
70 species, many in isolated areas and perhaps
extinct in the wild), Psychilus (15
species) and Nanodes (30 species), which
includes the species Epidendrum porpax
and Epidendrum medusae. Current
estimates place the number of Epidendrum
species at around 900.
Choose an Epidendrum
for strong, healthy, well-established plants with
little or no spotting and no color distortion on
the stems or leaves. A vigorous root system
with actively growing root tips at the surface of
the potting mix and down through the drainage
holes is ideal. Many reed-stem epidendrums
are susceptible to a leaf spotting fungus that
causes round brown spots on the undersides of the
leaves, but which does not seen to adversely
affect the health or flowering of the plant.
a plant with new plantlets attached to the stem
brings a bonus. Many epidendrums develop
keikis (Hawaiian term for "babies"),
which are new vegetative growths produced on old
stems and flower spikes. Once these keikis
develop their own 2- to 4-inch-long roots, they
can easily be detached from the stem and planted
individually in pots.
acquiring any orchid, it is essential that you
understand your own growing conditions, and then
compare those with the plant's requirements.
Carefully consider what temperature range,
light level, humidity and water quality you can
provide. Determine if the plant will be
grown indoors or outside and how much growing
space you have available. Know how many
times a week you will be able to water.
Have your water analyzed to determine if it
has a high level of dissolved salts and minerals,
which are detrimental to the health of some
plants. (Salt buildup appears as a crusty
white residue on the pot, roots and the leaves.)
True reed-stem epidendrums are tolerant of
poor water quality. Some epidendrums,
however, are sensitive to damaging salts and
other minerals such as iron, and need rainwater
or deionized water to thrive. As a general
rule, warmer-growing plants found at lower
elevations are more salt-tolerant than
high-elevation, cooler-growing species that
generally receive pure rainwater in their native
habitats. If your local water supply is
high in salts, you may want to consider a
reverse-osmosis (RO) system or collect rainwater
for those plants sensitive to water quality.
If you are unsure about your water, you may
want to contact you local water department for an
epidendrums grow readily in almost any setting,
whether in a pot, mounted on a cork slab, or in
raised flowerbeds outdoors, as climate permits.
Some volunteer plants have even sprouted on
the roof of the greenhouse.
These orchids require
copious amounts of fertilizer. When
fertilized regularly they respond immediately
with denser flower spikes, greener, stronger
leaves and more robust roots. Use any
balanced fertilizer according to manufacturers'
recommendations. Plants grown in lower
light (such as inside in northern climates) need
less nitrogen; high nitrogen fertilizer in low
light will result in long, leggy, straggling
epidendrums need bright light, even full sun, for
strong, sturdy growths.
These orchids are generally
forgiving of water frequency and quality.
Be sure to water copiously, letting water
drain out of the bottom of the vessel, to prevent
mineral buildup in the mix. Keep the roots
moist year round, but, as for most orchids, do
not let the plant sit in water.
They can tolerate a wide range
of temperatures and most can handle near-freezing
conditions. As a rule, provide day
temperatures of 60 to 90 F (and 30 to 70 F at
night). In northern latitudes, move the
plant outside after the threat of frost has
passed, being careful to avoid sun burning the
leaves when moving plants outside in the spring.
At the first hint of frost in the autumn,
bring the plants indoors, but be sure to check
for and remove any insects. Note that Epidendrum
cinnabarinum and many of its primary hybrids
are not tolerant of low temperatures (below 55 F)
for extended periods.
To keep your
reed-stem plant tidy, remove old flower spikes
and stems down to the base by snapping them clean
with your fingers or cutting with sterile
clippers. This makes room for strong, new basal
growths, while discouraging keikis from forming
that produce shorter, smaller spikes and turn
into messy, tangled plants if left untended.
Plants grown in low light will may need to be
staked, while those growing in full sun are
outdoors in raised beds, you can mix many color
forms of the same species, if desired.
However, combining several species in one
bed or tub often leads to competition and
overgrowth of one species to the detriment of
others. In subtropical and tropical
climates, reed-stem epidendrums make handsome
container plants for patios and pool areas.
Potting, Repotting and
secundum, Epidendrum radicans and Epidendrum
ibaguense, almost any planting mix will do,
because these are extremely tolerant of soil
conditions. These three species make a
spectacular display in raised planter beds or in
tubs or pots. You can use old potting mix
from your other orchids for potting these
epidendrums, but it should be sterilized.
Otherwise, use a potting mix, or make your
own mix or large or small bark amended with any
combination of perlite, moss, charcoal, sand or
gravel. Either a plastic or clay pot is
fine (clay needs watering more often). Repotting
or replacing raised beds is generally not
necessary, although plants do need to be
top-dressed with additional mix as the mix
decomposes or is washed away during watering.
For Epi. cinnabarinum, and
oerstedellas and their hybrids, it is best to
choose a fast draining mix of one part medium
bark, one part fine bark, and one part perlite
and replace the medium every 12 to 18 months.
Pest and Diseases
epidendrums grown outdoors are relatively free of
insects. Occasional encounters with aphids
can be treated be spraying with an insecticidal
soap or Orthene 75 percent WP (wettable powder),
thoroughly covering flower heads and new growths.
Follow the directions for repeat applications.
A slug or snail
can make a meal or several flower heads in a
single night. The new, nontoxic
iron-phosphate-based slug and snail bait
(available as Sluggo or Escar-Go) appears to be
effective slug and kind to humans and other
inhabitants of a yard. It is safer and
longer lasting than other snail and slug killers,
such as metaldehyde, and equally efficient.
Ant colonies in
the potting mix or nearby will often lead to
scale infestations the can be difficult to
eradicate. Sprinkle Diazinon around the
perimeter of the plant, carefully following the
manufacturer's instructions and safety
greenhouse, mealybugs can be problematic on new
growths and developing flower spikes. Treat
the entire plant by drenching the pot and
thoroughly spraying the new growths with
insecticidal soap or Orthene 75 percent WP, being
sure to follow the application schedule
recommended by the manufacturer.
shriveled foliage indicates poor root health,
most likely due to the root fungus Rhizoctonia.
Infection can be controlled using
Benomyl-related compounds such as Clearys 3336 WP
or Ban-Rot, the the disease is best prevented in
the first place by regular repotting in fresh
Foliage that is
distorted or streaked in irregular patterns, in
checkerboard shades of green becoming black
squares with age, could indicate the plant is
infected with a pathogen such as Tobacco Mosaic
Virus (TMV). Irregular color and streaking
patterns on the sepals or the petals of the
flowers could be a sign of Colorbreak Virus.
If you suspect a plant is infected with
virus, I recommend destroying it, or at least
isolating it from the rest of your plants. Plant
viruses are spread by fingernails, aphids and
other sucking insects, as well as by using
nonsterilized cutting tools or pots. You
can use disposable latex gloves when handling and
repotting your plants to minimize the risk of
cross-contamination. There is currently no
treatment for these plant viruses.
How to Encourage Plants
epidendrums are floriferous. In the rare
instance of a reluctant bloomer, the most common
cause is not enough light. Relocating the
plant to a spot where it receives as much
sunlight as possible and fertilizing regularly
should remedy the problem.
Epidendrums to Grow
secundum (Andes of South America) has an
upright, clumping growth habit with roots
emerging from the base of the stems, at or below
soil level. It readily forms keikis on old
flower spikes. The leafy stems range from 1
to 30 inches, producing a ball of 30 to 40
brilliantly colored 1-inch flowers on 18 inch
terminal spikes. Colors range from white to
yellow, pink, orange and purple, and all shades
in between. A well-grown plant produces
abundant spikes throughout the year. It
benefits from fertilizer, and thrives when grown
in full sun, in a rich, fast-draining humus mix.
It will tolerate temperatures down to
freezing for brief periods, but not below.
radicans (Mexico to Panama) possesses a
low-lying, freely branching growth habit,
producing roots along the length of the stem.
Stems range from 4 inches to 2 feet in
length, producing upright terminal 6- to
15-inch-tall spikes with up to 10 vivid,
reddish-orange, 1-inch flowers that are open at
any one time. The flowers open in
succession over several months, with up to 40
flowers per inflorescence. It does well in
full sun to partial shade. This species is
tolerant of temperatures down to freezing.
ibaguense (Colombia and Venezuela) grows
like Epi. radicans, but clumps more, with roots
emerging on the lower half of the cane.
Arching branches up to 18 inches, with
flower spikes another 18 inches, end in a dense
head of 1 1/4 -inch reddish-yellow to purple
flowers with a yellow lip. There can be up
to 50 flowers on a stem, with 20 open at a time.
The species has an especially attractive
growth habit and grows quickly, filling
containers rapidly. It takes full sun to
partial sun in hot climates, and can tolerate
temperatures down to freezing, but not below.
cinnabarinum (Brazil) is a robust, erect and
clumping plant, resembling a large Epi.
secundum, often reaching up to 4 feet.
The 30-inch-tall flower spikes produce
dense heads of up to 40 flowers, with as many as
10 open at one time. Flowers are large, up
to 2 inches, colored orange to red to pink with a
yellow lip. Ideally, this plant is grown
outdoors in full sun in South Florida and Hawaii.
Snap back stems to base after flowering.
This species is particularly susceptible to
root fungus (Rhizoctonia) when stressed
by cool temperatures. It is tolerant of
only short periods of cold (night temperatures
below 55 F).
species of Epidendrum have been
transferred by taxonomists to the genus Oerstedella,
although they are still widely known and sold as
epidendrums. They are distinguished from
other epidendrums by their unique flower
structure and growth habit, thin leaves and warty
leaf sheaths that cover the stems. They
range in height from 6 inches to 14 feet.
These thick rooted plants are generally
epiphytic, with the larger species being
terrestrials. Brightly colored, 1/2 to 1
1/2 inch flowers in many colors typically last up
to several months. Most of these are
intermediate to cool growing (60 to 85 F during
the day and 48 to 65 F at night). A 10 to
15-degree drop at night is beneficial .
They require frequent watering because of
their thin leaves and narrow stems, and can
desiccate quickly in hot climates if not
well-rooted. They thrive with high humidity
and air circulation, and are sensitive to water
quality. Oerstedellas in pots are highly
susceptible to Rhizoctonia root fungus, which can
be best prevented by repotting every 12 to 18
pseudowallisii (Panama and Costa Rica) is
free-flowering year round. Plants are up to
24 inches tall, flowers appear on short spikes,
are well rounded with heavy substance, in shades
of pale, creamy yellow with red spotting and a
white lip, and last for two to three months.
This is a warm to intermediate grower.
centradenia (Costa Rica) is compact and
vigorous, but can also be a rangy grower, with
stems 8 inches on average, although some reach 3
feet. It flowers from late winter to early
spring, bearing dense heads of 1-inch lilac
flowers on short spikes that last two months.
It grows well potted or mounted, and yields
keikis freely. It is tolerant of heat and
schweinfurthiana (El Salvador) is an
aggressive terrestrial, reaching 15 feet.
It flowers from midsummer to autumn on
spikes with more than 100 rounded flowers that
last up to three months. The sepals and
petals are suffused with orange-purple inside,
purple outside, yellow-tipped sepals, lavender
lip. Easy to grow, it thrives in full sun.
This species is frost hardy to a least 28
More Epidendrums for
epidendrums are easy to grow and make a
raniferum (Mexico to Central America) and Epidendrum
pfavii (Costa Rica and Panama) are two
species that produce upright canes to 4 feet,
with pendulous heads of flowers that emerge on
the same canes year after year (so do not cut
them). Epidendrum raniferum's
2-inch flowers are light green, finely spotted
red with a white, four-lobed lip, and last all
summer. Epidendrum pfavii sports 1
1/2-inch hot-pink flowers.
pseudepidendrum (Costa Rica and Panama) is
free-flowering year round. Its upright
canes can reach 5 feet. This warm growing
species is not cold tolerant, and is extremely
susceptible to leaf-spotting. The
astonishing long-lasting flowers have apple-green
sepals and petals, and a waxy orange lip that
feels like molded plastic. Do not remove
spikes after flowering as they will rebloom year
parkinsonianum (Mexico and Central America)
and Epidendrum falcatum (Mexico) have
unusual pendent freely-branching growth habits
with falcate, succulent leaves up to 20 inches.
These plants tolerate both heat and cold,
and will grow in bright light to shade.
Mount them for best results. Epidendrum
parkinsonianum produces up to eight 5-inch
star-shaped green flowers with a white,
three-lobed lip. Epidendrum falcatum bears
3-inch flowers that are white with a slight
blush. Both are fragrant at night and bloom
in the late spring.
Reed-stem epidendrums pay many
dividends in the garden or greenhouse; they are
easy to care for, affordable, widely available,
tolerant of diverse growing conditions and are
robust growers with many flowers in every color
of the rainbow. Epidendrums can reward the orchid
grower with a wealth of brilliant flowers all
is the owner of Andy's Orchids, where he raises
more than 2,300 orchid species and 120,000
plants. · 734
Oceanview Avenue, Encinitas, California 92024.
Cynthia Hill grows
orchids for sheer pleasure in Solana Beach,